Hiking tips for the Grand Canyon: how to avoid the crowds and where to hike
Welcome to my blog with hiking tips for the Grand Canyon and how to avoid the crowds. During my trips to the United States over the past years, I noticed an increase on the number of tourists traveling to the American National Parks. With this guide for hiking in the Grand Canyon I hope to provide you with some useful information for planning your hiking trip to the Grand Canyon.
[Note: this blog was first published in August 2013 and updated in January 2019]
When I first considered going to the USA, I didn’t include the Grand Canyon in my itinerary, since when looking on the map it didn’t seem that logical to go there from the other places I wanted to visit. It was only until I dropped the idea of visiting Iceland on the way over and going to Las Vegas instead, it seemed logical to add the Grand Canyon too. Somehow it was never on my “really-want-to-visit-list” although I knew it had to be spectacular, at least that’s what I heard from everyone.
Arrival in the Grand Canyon
I came driving to the Grand Canyon from the northeast and the first stop was the Desert View. When getting out of the car, I wanted to cry. All.. these… people… Booh! Families with screaming children, tour buses, motorbikes, literally hundreds, no thousands of people were there. As I walked over to the rim to have my first peek down into the most amazing canyon in the world, I nearly had to fight to find a spot. People were pushing and getting in front of each other to get the best picture. I was speechless and disappointed, how can something so pretty feel like being in Disneyland? Here’s how I eventually succeeded in avoiding the crowds at Grand Canyon!
In order to avoid the initial crowds at Grand Canyon, I went to the campsite straight after my visit to Desert View, which I luckily booked well in advance as it was fully booked, which is of course to be expected in June. The campsite was perfect, very large and quite shady and it didn’t seem too crowded there. Lots of birds too! In case you don’t want to camp, make sure to book your accommodation near Grand Canyon well ahead as it is typically fully booked most of the time, especially in high season. You can check prices and availability for your desired dates here.
Grand Canyon hike to the bottom: yes or no?
The next morning I got up at 4 am. Yes, you read that right, at FOUR in the MORNING. I told you I was going to tell you about how to enjoy hiking in the Grand Canyon without the crowds, right? It will be hard in the morning, but I guarantee you that it will be worth getting up early! I had been doubting for a long time if I should attempt to hike all the way to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. It’s strongly advised not to do it by almost everyone, but I heard you can do it if you are in shape, which me and my hiking partner were. Upon my visit to the park service they once again told me it’s not a wise idea and that they can’t tell me that I can’t do it, but that it will be extremely hard. And that at the bottom of the canyon it’s even 10 degrees hotter and people have died attempting to hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and back in one day. So I decided to be wise and skip the idea of hiking to the bottom and we went just down to Indian Gardens instead. I started my hike well before sunrise and was among the first one on the trail.
Hiking the Bright Angel Trail at Grand Canyon
I was advised to hike the Bright Angel Trail on my day in the Grand Canyon. This trail into the canyon is steep yet maintained and not that hard at first sight. However be extremely cautious as the hike down is easy (you are still fresh and not too tired) but going back up is much harder, as you will be hiking in the sun and heat most of the time. It’s recommended that you do not go beyond Indian Gardens, which was also the spot I used as my turnaround point.
The path was pretty easy and while the sun came up and the temperatures were still enjoyable, I hiked down 900 metres in less than two hours. I knew though that the way up would be much more difficult, with the heat on my back. After I had a little break I started my ascend and eventually arrived back at the rim about 3.5 hours later. Looking back at it, it was hot yet fairly easy, as I was fit and properly equipped. I did however see people totally unfit for this hike, they were almost crawling back up and did not have proper gear neither enough drinking water.
The Bright Angel Trail is nice (not gorgeous though) but only for people who know their own abilities. Many tourists didn’t know hiking etiquette, as in not giving people up the right of way or just blocking the trail completely with their family. Once again I was pretty annoyed by all the tourists, those carrying no water and wearing flipflops. I wasn’t surprised to find out that more than 250 people need to be rescued from the Grand Canyon each year because they have overestimated their abilities.
More information about the trail and where to find water can be found here on the US National Park website.
Hiking Hermit’s Rest at the rim of the Grand Canyon
After hiking the Bright Angel Trail I went back to the camp site for a while, grabbed a shower and rested for a bit. In the late afternoon after it cooled down, I decided to get out hiking again, this time to the western part of the Grand Canyon. I took the bus to toward Hermit’s Rest (the roads up to here are closed for cars) and got out and just walked along the rim. And guess what? It was awesome. There were almost no people there, most of the time it was just the me and my hiking partner. Sure, at the bus stops it would be a bit busier, but still it didn’t even come close to the herds of people I saw at the grand overlook and on the trail down. The trail is super easy and can be done by one who is able to walk a bit.
This was when I finally began to see why people love the Grand Canyon so much. I saw the Colorado River crawling between the rocks all the way down at the bottom and also enjoyed condors circling above our heads. Occasionally a squirrel would peek at me begging for food or walked past another tourist, but most of the time, it was just me. I took a lot of pictures and finally witnessed what I came for: a most inspiring canyon that was shaped millions of years ago and is one of the most impressive natural wonders in the USA.
Camping at Grand Canyon and where to stay
I camped at Mather Campground, the main camp site at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. Make sure to book well ahead as it’s usually fully booked all throughout the season. There are restroom facilities and a shower is located nearby at a fee. The camping fee for 2019 is $ 18 per night. There are various smaller other campsites that do not accept advance reservations and are a first come, first serve base. I’ve tried this during my Pacific Northwest Road trip I made last summer, however I found it quite stressful to drive somewhere and not find anything available. Hotels and motels are typically fully booked well in advance as well, you can check current prices and availability here.
If you have been to the Grand Canyon, let me know what you thought of it! Were you bothered by the amount of tourists? Or did you like me manage to find a quiet spot to enjoy the views? Do you maybe have any other suggestions for avoiding the crowds at Grand Canyon? For further planning, do not forget to order your copy of Lonely Planet Grand Canyon.
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